New Internationalist

DEATH BY COVID-19 – OR HUNGER?

Sierra Leone’s three-day lockdown was announced without warning. Mummy K, a fish seller from Freetown, watched in despair as her fish spoiled, the ice melting around it. ‘When I bought the fish, the price was high. So it was a big loss for me,’ she explains. Three months later, her colleagues are back out again selling, but she is sat playing Ludo.

‘I don’t know how to get started up again,’ she says. Her income supported three others, including her four-year-old daughter, who are all now living off a dwindling stockpile of garri, a starchy cassava flour, saved for shocks like these. She’s watching her daughter carefully for any signs of sickness. ‘Children eat money,’ she sighs.

Mummy K is one of thousands of women who work in the informal food economy in Sierra Leone, one of 27 countries now facing crisis-levels of hunger, according to the UN’s World Food Programme. All over the world, the pandemic – and measures put in place to stop it – have been pushing hungry communities over the edge. For many, it stacks up with conflict, climate disruption and grinding poverty.

The warnings are dire. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the number of people who experience ‘crisis-level’ hunger will rise to 270 million before the end of the year, an 82-per-cent increase since 2019. This means that large swathes of people in the poorest countries now face the prospect of starvation. Already, The Lancet reports, 10,000 more children have died from virus-linked hunger every month since the pandemic began.1

How has it got this bad in

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